Skip to main content

Double the Laughter at Our Kookaburra Exhibit

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

Kookaburras are known for their laugh-like vocalizations. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Listen carefully. Do you hear laughter? If you’re visiting Woodland Park Zoo’s Australasia area, you just might … and it could be coming from an unexpected source. Our laughing kookaburra family has just doubled in size thanks to these two newly-fledged chicks. Mama, Tamani, and Dad, Murray, are the proud parents of two young females who recently took their first hops—and flights—from the nest, just a few weeks ago.

Two kookaburra chicks hatched in May. Photo: Amanda Dukart/Woodland Park Zoo

The laughing kookaburra is the largest bird in the kingfisher family (think large head related to body size and long beak for catching prey like rodents, insects and lizards) and is so named for its distinctive vocalizations which sound like a mix of cackling laughter, chuckles and hoots.

Each chick was regularly weighed, enabling keepers to track growth milestones. Photo: Elizabeth Bacher/Woodland Park Zoo
You may already be familiar with the call of this species* as it is commonly used in shows and movies depicting jungle scenes—however there’s really only one region of the world where you would hear it in the wild. The laughing kookaburra is native to eastern mainland Australia, but has also been introduced to parts of New Zealand, Tasmania, and Western Australia

These lightweight bands allow keepers to keep track of who's who by sight. Photo: Elizabeth Bacher/Woodland Park Zoo

Even before their feathers finished growing in, the chicks were almost the same size as their parents. Photo: Elizabeth Bacher/Woodland Park Zoo

Woodland Park Zoo’s kookaburra family is unique among those in human care for an extraordinary reason—the age of the parents! The average life expectancy of a wild laughing kookaburra is around 12-15 years old—which makes our adult pair anything but average. Tanami—the mother of the two new hatchlings, is 28 years old and is the oldest reproductive female of her entire species living in an accredited North American zoo. Her partner, Murray, is not far behind her in age at 27.

Murray is a handsome bird and a great father! Photo: Amanda Dukart/Woodland Park Zoo

It had been more than a decade since this older pair produced eggs that hatched. So our animal keepers were pleasantly surprised to see an egg last year, which hatched to produce a healthy male chick. But given that these two were supposed to be well past their reproductive years, it was assumed to be a happy anomaly. Apparently no one told Tanami and Murray that they were too old to be parents, because this year they produced two viable eggs, which hatched the first week of May.

The whole kookaburra family posing together (plus one photo-bombing masked lapwing). Photo: Amanda Dukart/Woodland Park Zoo

The two female chicks, which don’t have names just yet, can currently be seen flitting around their exhibit—next to the wallaroos and wallabies—with their parents. They’re only ten weeks old but, like most birds that are old enough to leave the nest, they're already nearly the same size as their parents. There are a few differences, however. Mom and Dad have longer tail feathers and beaks than the youngsters—for now. And the parents will continue to feed their offspring for a couple more months while they learn to feed themselves.

*Kookaburra vocalization courtesy of San Diego Zoo